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Islander heads to Cuba to help it rebuild
Logan Price experienced what he called “the politics of need instead of the politics of ideas” when he ventured into New Orleans’ Ninth Ward a year after Katrina and began to help people rebuild their battered homes.
A former student organizer, he saw the profound difference he and his friend Nick Simmons made with their hammers, saws and sweat. He also saw the racism that kept the Ninth Ward in shambles and a kind of powerful neighborhood activism that helped residents reclaim their lives, he said.
Now, two years later, Logan, 25, has taken the lessons from that life-altering experience — a combination of political idealism and reconstruction know-how — into another epicenter of destruction and need.
He just left for the fertile Pinar del Rio province in western Cuba, as part of a “reconstruction brigade” working to rebuild a country that was devastated last month by the one-two punch of hurricanes Ike and Gustav.
But unlike his journey to New Orleans, this one is an act of civil disobedience, he said.
The United States’ 45-year Cuban trade embargo — what some activists refer to as a blockade — allows such delegations only if they apply for a license from the U.S. Treasury Department. Pastors for Peace, the organization sponsoring Logan’s brigade, refuses to obtain such licenses as a way to protest both an embargo that it says is inhumane and the way the U.S. government controls the flow of aid to the small island country, according to Lucia Bruno, the organization’s communications director.
Last week, a few days before his departure, Price said there are some risks to going to Cuba in direct violation of the U.S. embargo. No member of a Pastors for Peace delegation has been arrested, but some have been threatened with fines as high as $16,000. It’s a small risk to take, he said, for what feels like a crying need.
“Pastors for Peace feels it’s an unjust law,” he said. “I feel it’s our responsibility not only to oppose it, but to break it.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba,” he added, “and this is an amazing opportunity to do that.”
Price, an intense man with dark hair and a serious demeanor, sipped a cup of tea at Café Luna as he talked about his impending departure for Cuba. He had found out about the opportunity only a week or so before by way of an e-mail from one of his activist listserves. A construction worker and builder, he said he has consciously built a life that allows him to drop everything when he feels the call: In August, he was in Minneapolis/St. Paul to protest the Republican National Convention.
He jumped at the opportunity to head to Cuba, he said, calling the organization as soon as he read the e-mail to describe his skills and experience. The organization, in turn, quickly nabbed him as one of its delegates.
Pastors for Peace pays the lion’s share of the costs, flying the brigade to Mexico and then to Cuba as a way to bypass U.S. trade restrictions. Price, shortly before he left, was trying to raise $600 — his portion of the expenses.
The two hurricanes that hit Cuba were devastating in their impact. According to a variety of news reports, Cuba suffered $5 billion in damage. Hundreds of thousands of homes were ripped apart; thousands of farm animals were killed; fields of beans, rice, plantains and sweet potatoes were destroyed.
Price said Gustav, the stronger of the two, delivered winds of 205 mph.
The brigade Price is part of is working to rebuild a school for children with special needs in a small village called Puerto Esperanza. The two dozen Americans in the delegation are all skilled laborers — plumbers, electricians, masons and construction workers; they’ll work side-by-side with villagers as they rebuild the school, Price said.
He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to keep up the popular blog that he wrote when he was in New Orleans — thedispatch.info — a series of observations and essays that garnered Price and Simmons’ attention throughout the region and a front-page story in the Seattle Times. Telephone lines are down and electricity is in short supply, he said.
In fact, shortly before he left, he was trying to raise money to purchase a generator so that he and his co-workers could power their tools during the reconstruction effort.
Price said he’s looking forward not only to helping the local village rebuild a school but also connecting with both Cubans and his fellow workers. He’s eager to hear their stories, he said — especially from Cubans who have learned, since the unraveling of the Soviet Union, how to live with limited oil supplies.
And while he’ll be out of the United States during what some are calling one of the country’s most historic elections, he said his act of civil disobedience and humanitarian aid reflects a different way for him to have a voice and work as an agent for change.
“In a way, I feel I’m voting with my body,” he said.